I've been home from Africa for over a month now.
I haven't gone through all the pictures, it still stirs up so much in my soul that it is hard, but a good hard. It takes time. It is not something I can just do while multitasking life, breaking up fights while talking on the phone and seeing images of the Maasai baptism is not something I can do all at once.
It's amazing how some days I can go through the routine of life and everything is fine. And some days, something will hit me and I will, in my mind, go back there and feel it all. One of those moments happened earlier this week.
I was on the way to Bible study. I had turned into the parking lot of the church and was looking for a spot when suddenly a truck started pulling out, backing up towards me. No problem, I just waited for them to pull out and continued on. That's when I caught a glimpse of the license plate frame. The top read, "POVERTY IS". I couldn't quite read the bottom line, but my mind started going. Now that I have been to Africa, I know what poverty is. Poverty is the 25,000 children that died yesterday because their parents don't have enough money to feed them. Poverty is Eunice, who sits bedridden in her bed in the Kibera slum because she can't afford the $12 a week it would take for therapy for her to walk and work again. So there she sits, waiting to see if today her daughter might bring her a plate of food, but knowing that there is a good chance it might not happen.
It only took a couple of seconds for me to lean forward in my seat enough to read the bottom of the license plate frame, but in those couple of seconds I was intrigued. Would I read an amazing, inspirational quote abut poverty and what it means to us? What would it say?
Then I saw the rest of the license plate frame.
"POVERTY IS OWNING HORSES"
I sat back in the driver's seat of the van, and before I could even get myself parked I was crying. Poverty is owning horses? But the thing is, two months ago I would have gotten the joke. Yes, horses are expensive and take a lot of money. But here I sit now, forever changed by the sights and sounds and smells and visions of Africa, of real poverty and the overwhelming wealth and security that is American life. And to be honest, I don't quite know how to handle it.
I knew going into this trip that I could not come home and "Africa-ize" everything. I don't want to be that know-it-all who thinks she has all the world's answers because she spent two weeks seeing what third-world actually means. I don't want to do that. Not at all.
But still, part of me wants to scream and yell and be that crazy lady on the street corner who is telling everyone about the starving children in Africa and how selfish we are. I want to run up the the driver's window and inform them what poverty really is, and that if you have the financial ability to feed not only your family but horses as well, that's actually the definition of affluence, not poverty. I want to fix it, and the only thing I have with me are my words.
But I know that isn't the answer, because if you don't know about these children, these lives, you will never realize exactly how big the world is. We are told to look at life through the filter of the 'big picture', but our 'big picture' doesn't often extend beyond the borders of America. And as someone who has seen the slums of Kenya, I will be so bold as to say that there is no poverty in America.
It just doesn't exist. Now, I know that America is not perfect, not by a long shot. There is a sex slave trade in the very state that I live in. Prostitution is rampant, and drugs are a real problem. People need saving in America, too. But we have a government that says that we will never starve to death, and if our lives depend on it, we will get medical care. We are rich. We are wealthy beyond measure, and we are so inwardly focused on comparing ourselves to the rest of the wealthiest people of the world that we just don't get exactly how rich we are.
I, for one, am just as bad as everyone else.
My cell phone is a messaging phone, but I don't have a data plan. It is wearing out, the keys stick and I often find my self typing the same letter multiple times unintentionally so I have to double check my texts before I send them. I want an iPhone. I have for some reason convinced myself that a data plan and a GPS are just what I need to make my life easier and better. It's what I want, and I'm hoping to get one for Christmas.
25,000 children died yesterday because their parents could not afford to
buy them food. Today, another 25,000 children are dying, and tomorrow,
it's going to happen again. And I sit here in my comfortable home, longing for an iPhone.
Where's the big picture?
Are we as Americans really as blessed as we think? Yes, we have every necessity readily available to us. Our poor are not only provided food, clean water and medical care, but also cable TV and a cell phone. Truly, in the 'big picture', we don't even have poor people in America. Yet we live in a society so obsessed with outward appearances that we make it our life goal to be successful and have it all. We are so inwardly focused that we can't even see what is happening in the world beyond the borders of what we know. We have so much that we can't even fathom a part of the world where 150,000 people die every month because they cannot afford $30 for medical care.
In Kenya, you introduce yourself to others with a statement of faith. To introduce myself, I would say, "Hello, I am Tiffani Stauffer. I am a sinner saved solely by the grace of God and covered in the blood of the Lamb. All glory to Him who gives me life and breath."
Cars are literally covered in expressions of faith. What kind of Jesus-freak status would I receive if I plastered 8 inch letters proclaiming "JESUS SAVES" across the back window of my van?
In Africa, faith is huge. The word and works of God simply emanates from the souls of His followers that His name is spoken so seamlessly into conversation that it is the most natural thing in the world.
It's something that we just don't have. I have never in America met anyone like many of the people I met in Kenya. We don't have that faith, the one that prays "give us this day our daily bread" and then patiently waits for God to provide that day's food, knowing it will not come otherwise. We don't rely on God, because we have ourselves.
We think that poverty is owning horses.
I sat in the parking lot and cried. I cried for the souls in Africa that are starving and dying, for those who want to help but can't do it alone, and for my own selfish mind that thinks that I need things that are not even remotely a necessity. I cried for all the money that I wasted in my youth on cigarettes and Jack Daniels, knowing now that I could have literally saved lives with that money, but instead didn't have a clue, nor did I want to look beyond myself and think of other people.
I cry for the things I have, and the things I want, and finding a way to live an American life in America, but being Godly instead. It's a balance that I don't know how to handle.
So what the heck an I doing?
How can I make a difference here in America? And the answer is: I don't know yet. There is a part of me that wants desperately to sell everything we own and pack up our little family and move to Kenya to serve these amazing people, and live a life filled with the faith and freedom that comes from it, but that might not be the best option. That might not be God's plan.
Maybe my job is to tell the stories of these children. These people, these amazing souls who love Jesus and are so filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit that it bursts from their bodies and fills their every thought and deed. Maybe I am to reach out to you, my loyal bloggy friends, and tell you to sponsor a child. Maybe I am to start a nonprofit to help the people of Kibera learn how to support themselves and break the cycle of poverty once and for all. Maybe I am to pack up my family and move, but I just don't know.
Poverty is not owning horses, but unless these people's stories can be told, we as Americans will never get it.
I still don't fully get it.
But I'm trying.